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Afghanistan was already in the back of my mind, on the morning of September 11, 2001: I was supposed to be there. As I walked to my office on a crystal-clear Fall day, I was thinking about my cancelled visit. I barely noticed the plume of smoke from across the Potomac. I was the Senate Foreign Relations Committee official responsible for all of South and Southeast Asia. My proposed trip to Afghanistan had been denied because the country was not deemed sufficiently important the only time in what would turn out to be a 12-year career that such a request would be turned down. I thought Afghanistan was important. By 9 a.m., others would too. Anyone who followed counterterrorism issues immediately suspected that al-Qaeda was the culprit behind the morning’s attacks. And al-Qaeda was based in Afghanistan. I figured that this would become obvious very soon, but that the United States would invade Iraq instead: top officials in the Administration of U.S. President George W. Bush had been advocating such action for years. We ended up invading both. America’s relationship with the world's 1.8 billion Muslims would never be the same. My boss was the Committee’s Chairman: a senator named Joe Biden. As an anthropologist, I had conducted ethnographic fieldwork in a Muslim denomination spread throughout India, Pakistan, and elsewhere. In later years, Biden liked to say that he had brought me on board because he knew the importance of understanding global Islam. Until then, American policy makers had only a hazy notion of the world’s second-largest religion. But what would this mean for the conduct of U.S. wars in Afghanistan and (later) Iraq? Or for counter-terrorist operations in dozens of other nations? Or for diplomatic and political outreach to the 99.99% of the global Muslim population with no connection whatsoever to terrorism? Or America’s own Muslim citizens and residents, who comprise a community larger than the population of Singapore? The initial response from policy makers was better than I had feared. Less than a week after the attack, President Bush delivered a speech at the Islamic Center of Washington, DC. He urged Americans not to turn their anger against Muslims, and pointedly said, “Islam is Peace.” I took Biden to a mosque in his home state of Delaware the first time he had ever made such a visit so he could hear from Muslims who were his own constituents. In October, Biden gave   a   speech insisting that U.S. actions should narrowly target al-Qaeda terrorists rather than the Afghan population. Biden warned that an air campaign conducted without regard for innocent civilians would make the U.S. look like a “high tech bully” and alienate Muslims around the globe. Biden was criticized for this, but it proved all too accurate. The tonnage of munitions dropped on Afghanistan has never been accurately tallied, but an estimated 7,423 bombs rained down in 2019 alone . I pressed the importance of showing the people of Afghanistan that our battle was not against them, and my boss agreed. Biden was the first American political leader to propose a billion-dollar pledge of reconstruction aid. A billion dollars may not sound like much today: the U.S. has now spent one thousand times as much in Afghanistan. 1 But when Joe Biden proposed it on October 3, 2001, the sum was more than triple what the Administration had offered or would for many months. For a while, it all seemed to work. I took Biden to Kabul just a few weeks after the Taliban fell and we found a populace hungering to build new lives. That summer, I went back without my boss. I travelled to Kandahar, Herat, and Mazar-i Sharif wandering freely through the bazaars and mosques, accompanied only by relief-worker hosts. But the peace didn’t last. I travelled back to Afghanistan about three times each year for a decade, each time protected by a security detail armed to the teeth. What changed after 2002? In a word, Iraq. In a few more words: Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, torture, drone strikes, and the Patriot Act. America’s relationship with Muslims both its own citizens and those of other nations would be ruptured for years. Since then, we have elected the first four Muslim members of Congress, and a President named (after his Muslim grandfather) Barack Hussein Obama. But anti-Muslim sentiment among Americans spiked during the Trump Administration, which fueled Islamophobia by intolerant statements and actions from the very top. An influx of Afghan migrants and refugees many of them fleeing the Taliban after having risked their lives for American service members could spark another backlash of bigotry. I am hopeful, however, that Americans will take a different course. That they will remember to follow their best instincts rather than their worst. In sha’Allah.
© 2021 Oriental Institute, The Czech Academy of Sciences, Kevin L. Schwartz, and Ameem Lutfi
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September 20, 2021 The Global War on Terror and U.S. Relations  with the Muslim World: Reflections on Afghanistan Source: The White House
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In August this year, three soldiers from the gendarmerie Balochistan Levy Force were killed in a landmine      explosion in Ziarat, a southwestern town of Pakistan. A parlat (sit-in) ensued as the deceased's relatives and well- wishers refused to bury the corpses and blocked a highway. The protestors became further enraged by the arrival of a provincial government minister and his attempts at placating the situation. They demanded an immediate evacuation of the military and a roll back of its expanded presence in the region. They complained that paramilitary forces regularly fire hundreds of rounds during training in close proximity to a civilian population, terrorizing children and not letting anyone sleep quietly at night. One of the irate protestors   wailed, “Who flies a drone over the village? What a blatant disregard to  chadar-o- chaardiwari (honor of the house)!” Refusing to bury the dead bodies and rejecting  khatir (deference) of the minister are uncharacteristic actions in the honor-based Pashtun society that treats both the corpse and visitors with great respect. But such has been the norm in the northern and western tribal regions of Pakistan since the rise of a social movement, the Pashtun Tahafuz (Protection) Movement, four years ago. The preplanned and coordinated jalsa (political gathering) as the main mode of political expression has given way to parlat sit-ins that do not await a prior approval, announcement, or mobilization from leaders or political organizations. Such uncoordinated spontaneous efforts sometimes amass into large gatherings that outmatch jalsas from the past and attract leaders and followers from across political divides. The Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), earlier known as the Mehsud Tahafuz Movement, emerged in response to the Pakistan military’s many reckless operations in the northern tribal region. Among these, Zarb-e-Azb 1 (sharp strike), proved as the most lethal operation that took a heavy toll on the local populations who came to scathingly call it, Zarb-e-Ghazb (wrathful strike). The operations were launched by the Pakistani state in response to growing domestic pressure to limit the frequent militant attacks and in line with the    United    States’    “Af-Pak    policy,” which viewed expanding the Global War on Terror (GWOT) to Pakistan’s tribal region where the Taliban and other militants held hideouts as crucial to its success Like the American-led war in Afghanistan, Iraq, and beyond, the Pakistani military also indiscriminately rained bombs over civilian populations and continued to permit the U.S. to conduct drone strikes at a varying level of frequency in the northern tribal region. Mirali bazaar in the North Waziristan Agency, a sizable and bustling marketplace in the area, was left devastated like a ramshackle archeological site from the past. Those who got killed in the operations were reported as “militants” without proof or identification and those who went missing never returned. PTM claims that the missing person list surpasses 4000 men, and this is not a definitive total. While accurate figures are hard to come by, the operation resulted in the displacement     of about   800,000   people . Since 9/11, Pakistan has lost more than 80,000 lives due to the war. Beyond these deaths and destruction, the counter-terrorism operations put the Pakistani military in a new role to oversee civilian affairs even more meticulously. While there is nothing new about the Pakistani military interfering in civilian affairs, its operational capacity, influence, and spatial reach touched new limits during the war decades, particularly in the tribal region. In the past the military made a show of force, quelled local resistance, and returned to its cantonments. But during wartime it worked with and dominated the civil administration permanently. Visa and border control regimes have been established by the federal government with the assistance of the military to regulate hitherto free movement of people and goods in and out of the country at an unprecedented level. Fencing   and   manning of the borders with Iran and Afghanistan are near completion while military check-posts now dot the entire landscape in the North and Southwest of Pakistan. Moreover, in the Baloch areas, international mining companies have been awarded lucrative contracts by the federal and provincial governments without consultation with the local populations, while the Pakistani military provides security at such sites including the security of Chinese engineers and laborers working on the Pakistan China Economic Corridor. The military’s engineering of politics at the local level has reached new heights as well. In Balochistan, these efforts have culminated in the creation of a military- orchestrated political party, the Balochistan Awami Party. The military, however, has been mindful of its rapid-paced intervention in tribal society. It has set up new military-run schools, increased recruitment intake from the troubled region, and, most importantly, provided security solutions to businesses and efficient dispute- resolution mechanisms to the mining industry run by locals. The civilian administration and courts have an outdated and compromising setup to deal with complex mining disputes in a society transitioning from tribal and family- owned land and enterprises to individual and private ownership. In this instance, at least, the ineptness of an unmotivated civil bureaucracy has allowed the military to build its legitimacy anew. The military’s capture of the civilian functions is but one aspect of state-making in the tribal areas; civilian institutions too got overhauled. The civilian security setup got beefed up as new police units were launched to enhance the state’s combat capacity. The working perimeters   of the regular police were increased by adding areas from the control of tribal police, the Levy Force. These militaristic interventions have been supported by increased surveillance mechanisms, such as issuing biometric identification cards . In big towns, gun-toting men and the display of light weapons in the bazaar area is no longer a common sight as it used to be fifteen years back. The movement of people is now more closely tracked and regulated. Drones are being used for purposes other than war and combat. And the people of Balochistan and Northwestern frontiers are being increasingly subjected to the country’s taxation regime, a feat that the British state could not achieve, which had to either to waive taxes altogether or keep them at a minimum to not risk its authority. But these invasive state-making efforts have attracted a nemesis in the tribal borderlands. The Baloch are militarily resisting the militarized capital-extractive state expansion with broad-based ethnic solidarity, unlike tribe- specific revolts of the past. The Pashtuns, if less secessionist now than before, have become even more critical of the new security regime. They are resisting the military establishment through a social movement, PTM. The current unrest is yet another episode of capitalist transformations and modern state intrusion in tribal society. Both modern state authority and capitalist interventions have emerged on the former imperial borderland in a perpetual war-like condition and continue to tightly knit “war and security” in a way that bears the hallmark of what Benjamin Hopkins calls “frontier governmentality.” 2 As both the militants and the state are deploying new war technologies and tactics that are increasingly encompassing the civilian arena, the PTM and its allies among nationalist parties are emerging as the new hope for anti-war politics and a future without military domination.
© 2021 Oriental Institute, The Czech Academy of Sciences, Kevin L. Schwartz, and Ameem Lutfi
© 2021 Oriental Institute, The Czech Academy of Sciences, Kevin L. Schwartz, and Ameem Lutfi
The Global War on Terror and U.S. Relations with the Muslim World: Reflections on Afghanistan
Written by
Anthropologist and political scientist serving as a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the Middle East Institute, National University of Singapore. From 1999-2011 he served as Policy Director for South and Southeast Asia of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
If you are interested in contributing an article for the project, please send a short summary of the proposed topic (no more than 200 words) and brief bio to submissions@911legacies.com. For all other matters, please contact inquiry@911legacies.com.
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